One of the most appealing things about entering the nurse practitioner profession is that there are a variety of specialties to choose from. But, what happens if a few years into your practice you discover that your chosen specialty may not be the right fit for you?

Fortunately for NPs in this predicament, many universities in both the private and public sectors offer post-graduate certificate programs in each of the different NP specialties. So, how long does it take to get a degree in an additional specialty?

Overall the time it will take to graduate from the program depends greatly on several factors such as when your previous degree was obtained and what pre-requisites you completed as part of your previous graduate degree. Many schools use what is called a Gap analysis to identify the difference between your current knowledge and skills versus those needed for the new specialty. Before applying for a post-master’s certificate program, contact the appropriate program coordinator and provide a copy of your transcripts to determine what your required individual coursework will be.

Post-graduate certificate programs are generally only offered on a part-time basis and many programs, offer coursework online with minimal campus requirements; which is good news for NPs who must continue working in their current practice while pursuing a degree in an additional specialty. Though part time plans of study do allow for more flexibility, some programs like Drexel University in Pennsylvania do have a max time frame in which students must complete the program. Drexel University, for example, requires that students complete post-masters nurse practitioner programs in 1-3 years, depending on the specialty. 

Regardless of specialty, most certificate programs require anywhere from 25 – 40 credit hours. As such, NPs can expect to spend one to two years in school; with the first year typically dedicated to satisfying prerequisite courses that have either not already been completed or that have changed drastically since enrolled in the prior NP program.

In addition to earning credit hours, students will also be required to complete a certain number of clinical hours; despite having done so already in pursuit of the previous degree. The number of clinical hours required is not necessarily indicative of the specialty; with most schools requiring an average of 500 clinical hours. However some schools, like California State University, do allow students to apply a certain number of previously earned clinical hours towards the clinical requirement.

It’s important that you check the admission requirements directly with each school. Though the process for applying and enrolling in a post-master’s certificate program is fairly simple, some specialty programs, particularly neonatal, require previous experience in the specific specialty.

Once you have completed the appropriate post-master’s specialty certificate program, you will be eligible to sit for the national certification exam for your new specialty area. 

Are you planning to complete an additional nurse practitioner specialty degree?


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3 thoughts on “How Long Does it Take to Get an Additional Nurse Practitioner Specialty?”

  • It gets frustrating when FNP’s who can see patients through the life span are being told they can only work in a primary care setting. But physical assistant’s have barely any restrictions as to what acuity patients they can or can’t see. Why do most Graduate nursing schools require or prefer nursing experience in an acute care area for primary care NP programs? Why aren’t there more acute care NP programs? Do you think there will be an Acute Care FNP program in the near future? My almost 6 years of undergraduate nursing career have all been in the trauma I critical care Pediatric and adult emergency departments but the FNP program I’m in will not let me do clinical rotations in the E.D. or acute care settings. Guess my RN board certifications mean nothing.

  • I have 10 years CICU/telemetry experience, certified in both. I want to work for a local cardiologist that sees outpatients and inpatients. FNP can’t do both and neither can ACNP. Additionally, finding a preceptor for anything is joke. I pay tuition and find my own teachers, seriously? Clearly the nurses that are making these laws/rules are closely tied to the universities needing income.

  • Donna Gibson says:

    We are specializing ourselves out of employment. Nurses are their own worst enemy. I am an FNP and work in an oncology/hematology office. I do my required continuing education mainly on pediatric topics.

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